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November 24, 2009     693 Words

Sister Bridge Haase: Love and Faith in Action

CINCINNATI—“I live in the heart of the world,” says Sister Bridget Haase. “You can almost feel the heartbeat.” This 67-year-old Ursuline sister is sitting in a quiet room of the busy Boston Home, where she tends to the spiritual needs of 100 people with multiple sclerosis. Sister Bridget has ministered across two continents. She’s also a regular guest on SIRIUS Satellite Radio’s The Catholic Channel. Her story even was, this past August, featured on NBC Nightly News’s “Making a Difference” segment. Little wonder she’s garnered such attention: She makes a difference in people’s lives every day.

The life and faith of Sister Bridget is the subject of December’s cover article entitled, “A Generous Faith: Sister Bridget Haase,” by John Feister, periodicals general editor for St. Anthony Messenger Press. After November 23rd, the article will be posted at: http://www.AmericanCatholic.org

Ask Sister Bridget where life has taken her and perhaps she’ll start with Appalachia, maybe with Darfur, Sudan, or at the Boston Home. Born in New Orleans, she felt called to join the Ursulines. Her early years as a sister, though, were marred by tragedy. Her father, who ran a shoe store, committed suicide only a few years after Bridget had joined the sisters. Her mother, Rita, was penniless, but somehow managed to keep the house.

Sister Bridget taught first grade in Illinois. The next summer, she spent a few weeks as a volunteer in eastern Kentucky, teaching Bible school at a Glenmary parish outreach. She returned to Appalachia the following year, and felt her heart telling her that she should move into full-time ministry in the mountains. She and another sister were assigned the following year to work near Dunlow, West Virginia. She lived for five years in a converted three-room shed heated with a wood stove.

From there, Sister Bridget felt called to Africa. Soon she was enrolled in Maryknoll’s overseas mission program, and ended up in Darfur a year later. Once again, she has many stories of her truly heroic time among the starving. But they are not glamorous stories. Every volunteer expected to get malaria, and did. When Sister Bridget first arrived at the refugee camp, she was overwhelmed. She stayed at the camp for a year and came back home.

Sister Bridget had several other assignments in the coming years (the 1980s and ’90s) in Senegal, on both sides of the Mexico-U.S. border. Looking for volunteer work, she heard of the Boston Home, a residential facility in the Boston suburb of Dorchester. The Boston Home, over 100 years old, is home to about 100 middle-aged people with progressive neurological illnesses, mostly multiple sclerosis.

After a short time, the Home offered her a position as spirituality coordinator. For the past seven years she has served and witnessed among this wheelchair-using group of people, helping them to cope with the progression of their illness, the limitations on what were once normal lives. For her it’s a ministry of presence.

“It is almost like living in an Advent building,” she says. “You’re dependent on others, you’re waiting on others, you’re patient with others.” Whether a resident humbly asks her to wipe a nose or to move an elbow, Bridget serves gladly and with sensitivity. “I feel that every person is Christ in disguise,” she echoes Mother Teresa.

Sister Bridget keeps working to get her word out, to influence people to recognize the poor and to do good. Her latest writing, a collection of true stories and reflections on her lifelong ministry, is Generous Faith: Stories of Abundant Living, published this year by Paraclete Press.

But Sister Bridget’s main focus is being a source of kindness and love for those she helps. “I think my main ministry is to be present to the residents and they are present to me,” she says. “I would like to think I bring hope or I bring a spark of courage or a spark of compassion.”

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Permission is granted to reprint this release.

The other article posted will be “Rediscovering the Rosary” by James Rurak.

 


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